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Your Guide to the 2023 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

Memphis in May means music, an international salute and one of the biggest barbecue contests in the world. Mark your calendar for May 17-20, 2023, and read on for everything you need to know about the 2023 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.


Part of the month-long Memphis In May International Festival (that's where the international salute we mentioned comes in), the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is often called the “super bowl of swine.” In local lingo, we just call it "barbecue fest." Every year, it brings together thousands of smoke masters, amateur and professional, looking to be crowned kings and queens of barbecue.

Organized into cooking teams (more than 250 teams, in fact, representing dozens of states and foreign countries), these competitors enter into a wide variety of categories, including whole hog, ribs, shoulder, hot wings, beef, poultry, seafood, sauce and "exotic." They can cook with either charcoal or wood, but absolutely no propane, liquid, gas or electricity may be used in preparing the meat: the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is strictly about the subtle science (and art) of smoke. Oh, and $100,000 in prizes, not to mention bragging rights, are at stake.

About the Experience

The most critical piece of info you need before heading down to the fest is that the World Championship of Barbecue is not a food festival. It's a competitive cooking event so alternately quirky and interesting to watch, it's worth paying general admission to soak up the smoky aroma and the sights: During this year's contest, May 17 - 20, 2023, the Mississippi riverfront at downtown's Tom Lee Park will be transformed into a small "city" of tents of all shapes and sizes, decorated to the extreme. Yes, the focus is on the pig, but over the years, the contest has spread informally to include the tent systems, from the intricate to the outlandish, teams construct as their headquarters for the event. (Some will even go so far as to hire professionals to design and build their set-ups.)

For the general public, that means that just walking through the event is an experience. Almost all of the tents include fun-loving (sometimes irreverent) themes. (Think: "Tunisian Nights," a Muppets-inspired "Pigs In Space," the perennial-favorite "Redneck Barbecue Express.")

With all the downtime of watching meat slowly smoke, it’s no surprise that additional entertaining competitions have become fixtures on the schedule, including the Miss Piggy Idol Contest: a variety competition featuring teams wearing elaborate, if not completely ridiculous, costumes belting out reimagined pop songs. Think American Idol but in drag, and at least one team member dressed like Miss Piggy herself.

You can also catch some of the smoky action for free during the Patio Porkers competition. Head to W.C. Handy Performing Arts Park on Beale Street, Saturday, May 20, 2023, to see 30 teams compete to be dubbed the best backyard barbecuers. 

The World Championship of BBQ Cooking Contest is Coming
Can You Smell the Smoke?


To answer your burning question, if you aren't a competitor or invited by a team, health department regulations prohibit you from sampling barbecue from participating teams. But we got you. When you can't go another minute without sampling the goods, keep these tips in mind: A number of official vendors will have food for sale on-site, and add-on experiences including BBQ Alley and the Kingsford Tour of Champions buy you tasting rights. With advanced planning, you can even earn a judge's certification and become a contest judge

Keep in mind that you’re in the barbecue capital of the world. You'll find over 100+ barbecue restaurants, shacks and joints in the Memphis area, some within walking distance of Tom Lee Park. 

World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest FAQS

Is this a food festival? Remember, The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is just that, a contest. This is NOT a food festival. While tickets admit you into the event, you have to be invited to individual team tents, and per health regulations, teams are not allowed to serve the public.

Can I try any of the barbecue? Or will food be available on contest grounds? Add on an experience like the Kingsford Tour of Champions or BBQ Alley to your general admission for a tasting. On-site vendors will also be cooking up barbecue and other Memphis favorites within the fairgrounds, but you’ll find even more variety among the restaurants around Downtown Memphis.

What are all of my ticket options? 4-day passes, single-day tickets and VIP passes are available for purchase online. ATMs will be available on-site, but credit is acceptable for most purchases.

Can I bring my kid? My dog? All ages are allowed at the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, but not pets. 

What’s the contest schedule? This weekend is jam-packed with contests and competitions, so keep the schedule handy and you won’t miss a minute of the fun.

What should I wear? Be prepared for rain. The contest will go on rain or shine, so prep before you go. Wear comfortable shoes that can get wet, bring a poncho and don’t forget your sunscreen.

Where should I book a hotel or other lodging? Check out all of Memphis' hotel and lodging options. Midtown and East Memphis accommodations are your best bet if you want to stay near the contest grounds, but iconic Downtown Memphis hotels are less than 15 minutes away from the fairgrounds.

For more information on the 2023 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, click here.

How To Get To the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest 2023 

If you plan to drive, parking garages and street parking can be found within walking distance of Tom Lee Park. If you're staying outside of Downtown Memphis, take a cab, Uber, or Lyft.